Legal responses and recommendations

In almost all Members States, availability of alcohol is controlled by means of State monopoly or a licensing system. Attempts to control the availability of alcohol to young people have been made in most EU Member States by applying age restrictions (usually either 16 or 18 years) to off-premises and on-premises sales of alcohol. Portugal introduced its age restrictions relatively recently, in January 2002. Alcohol advertising restrictions vary from complete bans to voluntary advertising codes or no restrictions (Rehn et al., 2001; Bye, 2002). In the United Kingdom, the sale of cigarette lighter refills to under-18s was restricted by the Cigarette Lighter Refill (Safety) Regulations 1999 (Field-Smith et al., 2002). A decrease in deaths is thought to have been achieved as a result of this legislation together with information campaigns targeted at parents. There are some variations in legislation, and little is known about practice. An example of a new initiative to address issues of practice is to be found in Germany, which has recently introduced the ‘Apple juice’ law, which requires bars to offer at least one non-alcoholic drink cheaper than the cheapest alcohol (German and Dutch national reports). In the United Kingdom, a new scheme is being launched by retailers, with the support of government, to provide a special ‘pass’ for young customers to help enforce age restrictions on the purchase of alcohol and volatile substances (BBC News).

In recent years, the Netherlands has increased controls over coffee shops and coffee shops selling cannabis near schools have been closed. Under-18s are not permitted to purchase cannabis. Advertising of cannabis products is prohibited, and in recent years the tighter control of coffee shops has significantly reduced the number of customers under 18 years old (Dutch national report). In Copenhagen, Denmark, police have closed down approximately 50 so-called ‘cannabis clubs’ since an Act to prohibit visitors in certain premises came into effect (Danish national report).

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, initiatives have been taken recently to reduce problems linked with drugs and alcohol in young people. For example, the Children’s Bill (1999) in Ireland places responsibility on parents to control children. Penalties for parents include treatment for their own substance abuse and training in parenting skills. Children considered to be out of control may be subject to night-time curfews. Also in Ireland, two national public order initiatives are operated by the police. Operation Oíche focuses on under-age drinking, illicit drug use and under-age alcohol sales and Operation Encounter concentrates on antisocial conduct on the streets as well as in licensed premises, nightclubs and fast food outlets. See ‘Legal responses’ for further details.